Waking Marshall Walker

May 20, 2014

Few college students expect to end up working with their professors, but one of TV’s leading ladies is now sharing the credits with her mentor – a professor of drama department at UVA. 

Waking Marshall Walker is a short film about a man who owns a vineyard.  His wife has died.  He’s depressed, unable to remember things, and after several caregivers quit, his daughter is frustrated.

"What would you say if I sell the vineyard?  Sell the vineyard?  It’s tough for me to manage on my own.  I’d get a smaller place in the city, close to you and Bill.  What?  Or, or come with me to New Zealand for harvest.  No,  that’s not going to fix anything.  I can’t be mom for you.  I am not Mom!"

If you’re a fan of Grey’s Anatomy, you might recognize the voice of Sarah Drew – better known as Dr.  April Kepner.  She’s had that role for five years, thanks in part to University of Virginia Drama Professor Richard Warner.

"He really taught me to put myself fully in the shoes of the person that I was playing – to use my imaginary life to create the reality of what this character is going through.”

It’s been a decade since he directed her in several plays and coached her before an important audition.  

“I had the happy pleasure of seeing her take her first dive into Shakespeare, and I’m telling you I have never seen anybody do it as naturally, and that led to one of her big breaks.   She went up and did Juliet at the McCarter Theater. “

That regional theater in Princeton often gets attention from critics in New York.  The Times gave Drew rave reviews.  So did Variety.

“Before I even graduated from UVA I already had an agent.”

When the show closed, Drew returned to Charlottesville -- to friends and classmates Giorgio Litt and Thom Canalichio  – two guys who could write and promote.   

Some years later, they crafted the script for Waking Marshall Walker, casting Warner – who had performed  off-Broadway and on soap operas --  as the dad -- and Sarah Drew as his daughter.   The two were delighted to be working together again.

“What I always tell my students is that acting is very much like free falling.  You need to just take that leap and trust the people around are going to catch you, so what I did was I said, “Here’s all I’ve got for you, Sarah.  I’m just going to take a leap, and boy did she catch me.”

Her character also comes to the rescue after Marshall attempts suicide, taking an overdose of medication.  Early in the film, his caretaker finds him.

“Mr. Walker.  You didn’t answer your evening check in call.  You fall asleep watching your favorite program?”

She calls paramedics and the daughter who jumps in her car – then gets on the phone again to speak directly to her comatose father.

Hi, Dad.  This is crazy.  I know you probably can’t even hear me.  I can’t stop thinking about our last conversation.

The film was shot at a vineyard in Northern California.  Litt and Canalichio needed a special effect  to lure Marshall back from the brink of death, and they figured they’d do something in editing, but then  Warner says something remarkable happened.

“We went out to Mariposa, had a weekend, and it was delightful weather, and we woke up the first morning, and  it had snowed.”

The producers took that as a sign, and they’re now busy helping the gods to promote their effort – hoping it leads to a feature-length film or TV series.  The movie is making the rounds of film festivals, and the three UVA alums and their professor hope it will be shown at the Virginia Film Festival this fall. 

Watch the trailer for the film here.